Lynn Taitt has passed away.
One of the architects of rocksteady and early reggae, Trinidadian virtuoso guitarist Nearlin 'Lynn' Taitt, died on Wednesday 20th January 2009 at age 75 in his home just outside of Montreal after a long battle with cancer. Evidence of Taitt's influence on Jamaica's recording industry throughout the 1960s is reflected in the music on the Trojan dbl cd "Let's Do Rocksteady: The Story of Rocksteady 1966-1968", which is a virtual showcase of the best of his session work, with almost all of the recordings featuring his unmistakable guitar playing.
ARCHITECT OF ROCKSTEADY & EARLY REGGAE.
Nearlin "Lynn" Taitt, born in San Fernando, Trinidad & Tobago, got his start as a musician playing in local steel drum bands and then, at the age of 14, began playing the guitar. Actually his first guitar was stolen from a drunk sailor by a neighbour who had given it to Taitt to hide. He immediately began to teach himself to play. He played electric guitar with the Dutchy Brothers -- five sons of the Surinamese immigrant Leonard "Dutchy" DeVlugt -- for two years in the late 1950s, until he formed his own Nearlin Taitt Orchestra. In 1962 Lynn Taitt's band was hired by some calypsonians for a Caribbean tour culminating in Jamaica. Alas, after the tour the calypsonians absconded back to Trinidad without paying the musicians. The stranded Taitt, whose solid-body electric guitar was new to Jamaica, was snapped up by the astute businessman and bandleader Byron Lee, who had to lend him clothes to perform in. But although he helped Lynn Taitt in this difficult period, Lee sought to keep him on a short leash, having him reapply every year for a work permit. Nonetheless Taitt took to Ska like a hog to mud. He swung the music away from acoustic to electric guitar and soon established his own band, The Comets. Striving for the sound of a tenor pan, Taitt developed a percussive, "bubbling" style of guitar-picking, which is now standard repertoire for Jamaican guitarists.
He became much in demand session musician, who worked with all the important producers to provide music for every important artist at the time: Derrick Morgan, Desmond Dekker, Lee Perry, Ken Boothe, Bob Marley, Joe Higgs, Alton Ellis, Phyllis Dillon, and Delroy Wilson to name nine. Over the next five years he would arrange and record over 1,500 songs as session leader. Such phenomenal output was only possible because Taitt possessed a single-minded focus on music that bordered on the obsessive, practically sleeping in the studios and, when he wasn't playing music, composing it. It happened one day when Hopeton Lewis came to record in Ken Khouri's Federal studio, where Taitt and his next band the Jets, which included Hux Brown, Headley Bennett, Hopeton Lewis, Gladstone Anderson and Winston Wright, were working. Lewis' song was "Take It Easy", a message perfectly in keeping with the times, when the urban unemployed "rude boys" affected a cool, laid-back menace. But the song wasn't right at Ska's fast pace, so Taitt together with Gladstone Anderson decided to slow down that pace.
"Take It Easy" sold 10,000 copies in a single weekend. This was not simply a slower version of Ska but a completely different, new sound, whose influence can be heard in today's reggae. For instance, the electric bass plays clusters of notes, like a dance rather than an even stride. The same notes are played by the electric guitar, which brings them from the background to the fore. Other songs are also said to have launched rocksteady like e.g. Alton Ellis' "Girl I've Got A Date" and Derek Morgan's "Tougher Than Tough", but that doesn't matter because Lynn Taitt arranged and played on them all. The entire Jamaican music industry fell in line behind Taitt, whose band backed almost every important rocksteady hit, including Desmond Dekker's first, "007". In countless sessions Taitt would first lay out his slow, cool guitar chords, giving room for the other musicians -- organ, saxophone, trumpet and especially the vocalist -- to produce the sweetest melodies.
Then in 1969 rocksteady was abruptly supplanted by reggae. There were several reasons, such as the rise of new producers like Lee "Scratch" Perry and Bunny "Striker" Lee, engineer Osbourne "King Tubby" Ruddock; the new artistes they had to groom; and the new sound they discovered. "Scratch" Perry signed a group of rebels, the Wailers. King Tubby moved in another direction by omitting vocal tracks and having a DJ, U-Roy, chant in their space. But central to the demise of rocksteady was the sudden relocation of one of its main architects, the restless Lynn Taitt. At the peak of his fame Taitt was invited to set up a band in Toronto for the West Indian Federated Club. It was meant, like his 1962 trip to Jamaica, to last a fortnight. Instead he stayed a year and then decided he liked the place so much that he lived their until he relocated again, now to Montreal.
In recent times Lynn Taitt was the subject of Generoso Fierro's prize-winning documentary "Lynn Taitt: Rocksteady" and a central part of Alex Beason's Lyric DVD film "The Roots". Furthermore he would be involved in the making of Stascha Bader's film "Rocksteady: The Roots Of Reggae", but due to suffering from liver failure he was unable to lead the band who supplied the film's soundtrack.
Despite the fact that he has done much more interesting and notable things in his musical career, Lynn Taitt will always be fondly remembered as a musical giant of the rocksteady era.
Sources: "Wikipedia", "The Rough Guide To Reggae" by Steve Barrow & Peter Dalton, "The Secret Hero Of Jamaican Music" by Kim Johnson.